A Beginner’s Guide to the Enneagram (Tips for Getting Started)

I’ve been nerding out over the Enneagram for about 3 years now.

I love personality and personality typing tools, so when the word “enneagram” showed up in several different areas of my life within a few weeks (a book, a blog post, a podcast…) I was *shocked* to learn that there was a personality framework that I wasn’t familiar with. I looked it up and I was HOOKED.

I took a test, I listened to podcasts, I read books, I talked with friends. I began to dig into issues that have plagued me for as long as I can remember, name things I’d much rather ignore, deal with parts of me I pretend aren’t under the surface. It hasn’t been fun, but it has been GOOD. Like therapy, good.

Over the past year, I’ve been excited to see the Enneagram blow up as more and more people discover it, many of them joining me in finding it gross and terrible and quite helpful to their personal and spiritual growth.

Each time the Enneagram shows up on Facebook (through a new app, a new podcast, Jen Hatmaker posting about it) I get a slew of questions and see quite a bit of misunderstanding.

Are you new to the Enneagram? Would you like to know a little more before you jump in? Have you taken a test, but don’t understand what the big deal is?

Click through for a quick summary of what I’ve learned about the Enneagram, and  5 tips for Enneagram beginners. 

The Enneagram (pronounced IN-ee-uh-gram) is a personality framework that sorts personalities into 9 different types, each rooted in deadly passions (the seven deadly sins plus two; Anger, pride, deceit, envy, greed, fear, gluttony, lust, sloth), that come from 9 basic fears or desires.

A lot of the recent pop-culture references to the Enneagram are not emphasizing this sin aspect, but this was what drew me in the first place. I was fascinated by the ways in which our personalities are driven by underlying passions, ways that we tend to “miss the mark” and get our needs met in unhealthy ways.

The Enneagram is about motives, not behavior.

You can’t just read the titles of each number and decide which you are. And it is difficult to identify your Enneagram type from just a test, because tests focus on behavior rather than motivation. You might act like a helper, a peacemaker, an achiever (I am all three of these), but the question is not how you act, but WHY.

The Enneagram is about EGO, false self, the ways we feel good about ourselves in the world rather than embracing our inherent value.

Being a 2 (or a 7 or a 9) isn’t a personality type – it’s a defense mechanism. My number tells me why I act the way I act, what I’m afraid of, what my deepest desire is.

The Enneagram is a growth model.

Within your number, you find a range telling you how that number tends to operate when unhealthy, average, and healthy.

We are unhealthy when we allow our ego to control and drive our actions, when we are driven fear to earn value and get what we need from the world and others.

We are healthy when we embrace our inherent worth (for me, this comes from knowing who I am in Christ: loved, beloved, a cherished child of God), without any of the ways our ego tries to earn worth or value. This is the goal: To live in freedom from the drives of our ego.

Reading the growth model of various numbers I was considering, especially what they look like when unhealthy, helped me narrow down my number.

5 Tips for Enneagram Beginners

#1 There are tests available, but you can’t find your enneagram number with a test alone.

By all means take an online test (I did, and I made Matt do it too.) But know that all a test can do is point you in the right direction. It takes time to discover your enneagram type, and no test can shortcut that. The online test I took recommended looking at your top 3 scores, reading about them, digging into each of them. I did that, and then read books, considered the growth model of various types, and began working through the questions suggested for each type. I am pretty sure of my type now, but I’m not 100% even now.

If you want to start with a test, here’s the one I took.

#2 Ignore the titles of the different numbers, they’re misleading.

Christian women in particular tend to read the titles and assume they are 2s or 9s (Helpers and Peacemakers) because those are roles we are encouraged toward, while we’re discouraged from being Achievers or Challengers. But those are all behaviors, not motivations.

I found it helpful to look beyond the titles to the underlying passion or sin, and the basic fear (both of which are discouraging and terrifying to identify.)

1 Reformer Anger Fear of being bad, corrupt
2 Helper Pride Fear of being unworthy of being loved
3 Achiever Deceit Fear of being worthless, without inherent value
4 Individualist Envy Fear of being without identity or personal significance
5 Investigator Avarice (greed) Fear of being useless, incompetent
6 Loyalist Fear Fear of being without support or guidance
7 Enthusiast Gluttony Fear of being deprived or trapped in pain
8 Challenger Lust (for experience or intensity, not just sexual lust) Fear of being harmed or controlled by others
9 Peacemaker Sloth Fear of loss of connection, fragmentation

From The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Riso and Hudson

#3 No number is better or worse than another.

Some types are more celebrated and rewarded in our culture, or in particular families, than others. But all of the numbers have something beautiful to offer, and all have deeply harmful tendencies. Be honest with yourself: The Enneagram isn’t aspirational. You can’t change your number, you can only embrace who you are and how you function in the world, and learn to be the best, truest version of yourself.

#4 There is tremendous variation within each number

Each person within a type will differ significantly from others in that same type, based both on how healthy or unhealthy they are, but also on a variety of other factors (these are super Enneagram nerdy, like wings and triads and directions. I’ll spare you for now.)

While knowing your own or someone else’s enneagram number will not necessarily  tell you who they are or how they will act, it will tell you WHY. Knowing the why behind people close to me has been tremendously helpful in understanding and compassion, as well as communication.

#5 The key to the Enneagram’s helpfulness is our ability to notice.

One of my enneagram books calls this “catching yourself in the act.” For this reason, the most helpful things I’ve found about my Enneagram type are the red flags (for my type, 2, these are things like “believing they must go out to others to win them over”, “Manipulating others by finding out their needs and desires and creating dependencies”, “I try to be loved by loving.”)

When I notice myself doing these “earning my worth” activities, I know I need to stop, take a deep breath, reevaluate. Most Enneagram books provide questions for each type to ask themselves (one of mine as a 2 is “Is this mine to do, or someone else’s?” and “Am I trying to earn or win my worth and value from this person/group?” “What do I feel and need in this moment?”)

Have you explored the Enneagram? If so, what questions do you have, and what have you learned?

Next Up: I’ll share some of my favorite Enneagram resources. There is some GOOD STUFF out there if you want more information.

I’m working on a post sharing what I’ve learned about myself through the Enneagram as well, hopefully that will go up next week.

The Enneagram has been TREMENDOUS help in marriage and parenting (particularly my teenager, the only one whose number I am sure of), but those are other people’s stories so I am not sure how (or if) I can share them.

If you’re interested in any of these “coming soon” things, sign up for my email list so you don’t miss anything I post!

 

Beginner's Guide to the Enneagram (Insta)

 

 

 

 

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